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OPINIONS

Winter in Israel, Part II: Minorities and the State

This is the second in a series of three articles written by Aly Cash’16, Jaih Hunter-Hill ’15 and Amrita Rao ’15 reflecting on their experience traveling to Israel over Winter Break on a campus leaders mission sponsored by The David Project.

 Let us re-introduce you to Forsan Hussein, the Arab Israeli CEO of the Jerusalem YMCA. In his dialogue with us, Hussein emphasized that Israel still has a lot of untapped potential in its minority population.

Arabs make up 20 percent of Israeli citizens but contribute a much smaller share of Israel’s GDP. Over half the families under the poverty line are Arab, but there are large discrepancies in government funding for Arab needs, including education. According to some estimates, Jewish schools receive three times as much funding as Arab schools. Most Arab children don’t even learn Hebrew, which makes it much harder for them to find employment in Israel.

In an effort to bridge these divides in Israeli society, in recent years a growing movement for mixed schooling is bringing Arab and Jewish students together to learn in a bilingual environment. Hussein’s Yad B’ Yad, or Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education, leads the way in using schools as the first step on the ladder to a well-integrated Israeli society.

Social dynamics within Arab communities widen the ethnic gap by stigmatizing women’s full inclusion into society. Amna, an Arab Israeli woman whose home we visited, shared with us her story of fierce dedication to social change. She has firsthand experience of what it means to choose between her father’s wishes and her pressing desire to make far-reaching social change for the Arab Israeli community.

As a young woman, Amna had a drive to set a new precedent for women within her community. This took her outside the borders of her village to nearby Israeli cities where she worked, learned Hebrew and was introduced to a new and foreign way of thinking by her newfound Jewish Israeli friends. Today, Amna realizes that her life experiences greatly inform her ability to reshape traditional norms surrounding female autonomy as she educates women within her community about the very things that have made her so successful.

On a broader scale, Arab Israelis like Amna sit in the hot seat of the Middle East—not fully integrated into Israeli society, but also denounced as traitors by their fellow Arabs just for staying in their homes and communities. When 1948 peace efforts drew the Green Line (Israel’s border until 1967), the village of Barta’a was divided, with one half within the state of Israel and the other half in the West Bank. Some Muslim men even had to choose between wives and houses on different sides of the line.

When the two halves were reunited in 1967 after the Six Day War, the post-partition differences in the two parts became very apparent. Those on the Israeli side looked forward to rejoining the other half of their extended families, but were met with suspicion and disdain by the Palestinian half of Barta’a, who had been taught that Arabs who stayed in Israel were traitors and enemies.

Today, Arab Israelis and Palestinians don’t identify as the same community. While in Barta’a, we talked with two Palestinian men from the West Bank working in a fruit stand owned by an Arab Israeli. Palestinian workers often earn less than half of the Israeli minimum wage and have to wait hours at checkpoints while traveling to and from work every day. Though only a few hours away, these men had never been to Tel Aviv because they only had work permits for Barta’a. But when asked if they would want Israeli citizenship if given the opportunity, they said they didn’t need it. They didn’t feel marginalized by Israel or even connected to it in any way, nor did they desire to have a connection to Israel. To them, Israel was just a place that they worked, with wages that, though low, were better than those at home.

***

Same-sex rights are a minority issue in Israel that has received a lot of international attention, with the media accusing Israel of “pinkwashing”—using the façade of a modern pro-gay mentality as a public relations tool while policies remain stubbornly homophobic. In reality, these policies do not reflect the social climate that the Israeli LGBT community experiences.

While same-sex marriage ceremonies cannot be performed in Israel, Israel is the only country in the Middle East or Asia to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Tel Aviv has emerged as “the gay capital of the Middle East,” as Out magazine puts it, and Israeli same-sex couples can have a marriage that is recognized by the state if it is performed in a country that recognizes such marriages. This policy also applies to any heterosexual couple wishing to have a non-Orthodox marriage, even if they are Jewish.

Yet Israel’s Jewish Orthodox community (approximately 20 percent of the Israeli Jewish population) takes a very different position. We had the opportunity to talk to Chaim Elbaum, the first public voice for gay men within the Orthodox community. His film, “And Thou Shalt Love” confronts the Orthodox position on homosexuality head-on. It portrays the isolation of Ohad, a 20-year-old student at a Yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish religious university, who conceals his sexual orientation from everyone except the rabbi who is trying to “cure” him. He struggles between his seemingly contradictory loves for another man and for God.

Ohad’s story is Elbaum’s own. Elbaum believes it possible to maintain his Orthodox religion without denying his gay identity. He shared with us his hope for progress within the Orthodox community and his appreciation for the supportive attitude of the secular Jewish community.

From Elbaum’s perspective, of course the situation of homosexuals in Israel is not perfect. But in the cases of both Arab Israelis and homosexuals, the minority rights issues aren’t quite what they seem. The official position on both issues differ greatly from the attitude of the people themselves. In either situation, we see internal social issues that the people of Israel are working to improve by themselves, and we do them a disservice and undermine their efforts by exaggerating and redefining these issues as human rights violations

Contact Aly Cash, Jaih Hunter-Hill and Amrita Rao at acash@stanford.edu, jahh15@stanford.edu and arao15@stanford.edu.

  • guest

    great article! really interesting perspectives on the issues in Israel

  • Thank Goodness for Some Nuance

    Intriguing article. With practically all of the articles about the Middle East in the Daily focusing on the Palestinian- Israeli conflict/question with clear agendas and biases, it’s refreshing to read an article about other issues in Israel–an article with nuance and acknowledgement of strengths and weaknesses of Israel. I wish we had more op-eds like this

  • mxm123

    Intellectual Dishonesty or Intellectual Laziness or Intellectual Honesty. Which is it.

    Three Stanford students go on a fully paid trip by a pro-Israeli organization to Israel and come back to tell a tale. Can we assume that these students examined the stories presented to them with the intellectual rigor one would expect of a Stanford student. Or did they buy their hosts arranged narrative hook line and sinker.

    Lets roll the tape.

    1) Pinkwashing – This is how they describe pinkwashing.

    “Same-sex rights are a minority issue in Israel that has received a lot of international attention, with the media accusing Israel of “pinkwashing”—using the façade of a modern pro-gay mentality as a public relations tool while policies remain stubbornly homophobic.”

    Alas this definition is openly false but rather convenient. Especially if you’re on a fully paid trip by a pro-Israeli organization. A New York Times article on pinkwashing has the following narrative

    “The growing global gay movement against the Israeli occupation has named these tactics “pinkwashing”: a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

    Our three Stanford grads openly sidestepped the issue of Palestinians human rights and came up with their own definition of Pinkwashing.

    Intellectual Dishonesty or Intellectual Laziness or Intellectual Honesty. Which is it ?

    2) The tale of Forsan Hussein, the Arab Israeli CEO of the Jerusalem YMCA from Part I

    How wonderful. Our wide eyed Stanford Grads met an Israeli Arab who told them of how he was raised with the narrative of “Jews had horns” and his shock when he first saw them

    “Seven-year-old Forsan Hussein was chasing a runaway sheep up a grassy mountain by his Arab-Israeli village of Sha’ab when he came across a group of Jewish boys from the neighboring town playing soccer. He watched them from behind a tree with a fair amount of confusion. Where were their horns? He had never actually seen a Jew before, but he knew all Jews had horns from the stories his uncles had told him.”

    Aw shucks. What a heart wrenching tale. See, It meets with our hosts narrative of an Israel yearning for peace and it’s those darn Palestinians who are the problem. And look, our own “Obama” (Forsan Hussein) tells you about Arab stereotypes of Jews.

    But wait. Here is another interview the same Forsan Hussein gave while on his free ride to Brandeis.

    http://www.haaretz.com/absolute-friends-1.113041

    “My first encounter with Jews was in fourth grade,” recalls Hussein. “It was Tu Bishvat [Jewish Arbor Day] and my class paid a visit to Shorashim. Up to then, I thought Jews were the embodiment of pure evil. ”

    Hmm. Well after the free ride to Brandeis, he got a Harvard MBA (free ride here to perhaps) and nice cushy job in Israel with loads of perks and publicity as long as he sang the right song.

    Did it ever come across our Stanford tourists to juxtapose his narrative against the wider Arab Israeli narrative. Or even perhaps position this narrative against opinion polls that point a far darker view Jewish Israelis have towards their Israeli Arabs citizens. Or did they just lap up the narrative presented to them by the David Project and its billionaire leadership.

    Intellectual Dishonesty or Intellectual Laziness or Intellectual Honesty. Which is it ?

    More to come……

  • mxm123

    Intellectual Dishonesty or Intellectual Laziness or Intellectual Honesty. Which is it. – Part 2

    After meeting with a few Israeli Arabs our fully paid Stanford sightseers point out.

    “Those on the Israeli side looked forward to rejoining the other half of their extended families, but were met with suspicion and disdain by the Palestinian half of Barta’a, who had been taught that Arabs who stayed in Israel were traitors and enemies.”

    Lets see. Mahmoud Abbas the president of Occupied Palestine refuses to accede to a demand that Israel is a Jewish state because he does not want to relegate Israeli Arabs as second class citizens. And even Israeli newspapers point out open discrimination against Israeli Arabs

    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/israel-must-end-discrimination-against-arab-college-graduates-1.436533

    “But Israeli Arabs, who make up 22 percent of the population, suffer from exclusion and discrimination. Nowhere does this discrimination stand out more than among college graduates. Only 1.3 percent of Arabs who graduate in high-tech fields find work in their specialties, despite claims by high-tech leaders that they are desperate for workers. Most of these Arab college graduates are forced to compromise and work as teachers.”

    That’s correct folks 1% of qualified Israeli Arabs get hired in high tech fields. Irregardless our David Project free trip students could only discern that stateless Palestinians hate their Israeli Arab cousins !!!!!!!!

    Intellectual Dishonesty, Intellectual Laziness or Intellectual Honesty. Which is it ?

    More to come……

  • Adirondack Jack

    “Mahmoud Abbas the president of Occupied Palestine refuses to accede to a demand that Israel is a Jewish state because he does not want to relegate Israeli Arabs as second class citizens.”

    This is the most twisted hypocritical statement I’ve read in a long while, so kudos for having crafted it. Considering that the Jewish State already recognizes itself as a Jewish State (and for that matter, since November 1947 the UN has as well), it would be mildly surprising, to say the least, if a former arch-terrorist-holocaust-denier like Abbas’s words would influence one iota of Israeli civil rights, which remain the most consistently upheld of any country facing comparable threats in history. The demand of Jewish-state recognition from Abbas has always been about said former arch-terrorist-holocaust-denier’s ambitions vis-a-vis renewed bombing of Israeli schoolbuses, this being the insatiable ambition exemplified by his predecessor.

    But that’s not even the twisted hypocritical part. You really think that Israelis should feel bad about being the most ethnically-heterogeneous, religiously-tolerant country in the middle east bar none. They should feel bad for introducing affirmative action so that more Palestinian Arabs will attend its top universities, and perhaps feel bad for not being a country like France, where said Palestinian Arab students would not even be able to where their head-dress in class. And you think they should feel bad in order that they accede more to the demands of a Palestinian Authority whose courts *still uphold* capital punishment for land-sales to Jews. No need to look next door in Egypt, where mobs routinely terrorize the Coptic minority. No need to look next door in Saudi Arabia, where the most repulsive forms of apartheid are practiced against the massive non-Muslim labor-force and, of course, the female half of the population. But of course none of this concerns you: it’s not part of your “narrative”.